Incoming transfer students are tackling the challenge of acclimating a rigorous university. They’re not only stepping into a new environment, but also trying to catch up with their peers who possess experience and familiarity with the culture on Grounds.
Second-year College student Samantha DeMarco expressed some of her fears of alienation from the University community as an incoming transfer student from American University.
“I feel like coming in as a transfer student — it's kind of ostracizing in a way. Like, you're not really a first-year … you've done the college thing before,” DeMarco said.
DeMarco found some solace through the social events that the University put on such as the transfer student welcome barbecue on Aug. 21. Interacting with other transfer students like herself affirmed that she wasn’t alone in feeling lost and overwhelmed at times.
“So that's really nice to have that fear sort of alleviated that you're not the only one that has these fears, or has these worries and that you have other people who you can rely on who are in the same boat as you,” DeMarco said.
Sarah Dodge, assistant director for Orientation and New Student Programs, helped put together and host the welcome barbecue for new transfer students. Dodge conveyed how events for transfer students are planned in hopes of alleviating some of the social stress that comes with transferring to a new school.
“One of the things that's always been really important to me is making sure that the transfer community sees each other,” Dodge said. “I think very often with only 100 transfer students, it feels like a much smaller, much more isolated welcome experience, so one of the things that we really tried to do with this particular event is making sure that transfer students really make time in the evening to hang out with each other.”
Third-year College student Arjanae Avoua, who transferred from Piedmont Virginia Community College this fall, noted the strong bonds of the transfer community as a whole at the University are helping her to feel at home.
“I feel like the transfer community here is well knit, and also having [events] just for transfer students has been very helpful,” said Avoua.
Avoua went on to describe how her largest concern coming to the University this fall was attempting to establish a sustainable and comfortable lifestyle at the University while she adjusted to her new environment.
“I'm nervous about how to balance academics and social life.. academics here are much different than [at] community college,” Avoua said. “I was thinking of doing rugby and doing one other thing, and then I got a bunch of homework and I was like, ‘I don't know if I'll be able to do clubs,’ so I might join a club or two in the spring once I just learn how to be a student here.”
Having been through this process before, transfer peer mentors also participate in helping transfer students feel welcome at the University. As a student who transferred from the College of William and Mary her second year, fourth-year Commerce student Mackenzie Mastal spearheads efforts to organize transfer student programming as the lead transfer peer advisor.
“Our goal is to make transfers feel like welcome here, and that they belong here,” Mastal said. “[We want to] get them acclimated to U.Va. and the Corner and everything — their actual new environment.”
Third-year College student Miranda Cannell attributed her satisfaction of being welcomed to the clear communication on behalf of University faculty and transfer peer advisors.
“I think there's a good infrastructure of emails and keeping up in being transparent about how difficult it's going to be and understanding that it's a lot more preparation than then you might be used to in a previous university,” Cannell said.
While acknowledging the benefits of creating community by attending the welcome events, incoming transfer students still expressed feelings of anxiety. Third-year College student Russel Thomas also transferred from PVCC and spoke about how he felt swamped by all of the activities happening on Grounds during the first week of classes.
“There's moments where I can feel a little overwhelmed,” said Thomas. “There are so many things happening and so many events ... things like [clubs] asking you to get involved in, and it can feel kind of like I don't even know what to do.”
While the initial transfer welcome events may have already wrapped up, Mastal advises transfer students to push themselves out of their comfort zone and reach out to the University community around them.
“I would definitely say get involved and don't be afraid to put yourself out there,” Mastal said. “It can seem kind of daunting. You're thinking, ‘Oh, everyone already has their friend groups and study groups and everything like that. But people here [are] always wanting to make new friends ... just put yourself out there even though it can be scary at first.”